Launching Trip Compass

I think walking is the best way to get the feeling of a city. I love going on long walks, specially when I’m traveling. The only problem is that I suck with directions, when I think I need to turn right I was suppose to turn left. When I arrive in a place, most of the time I don’t pay attention to how I got there, so I have a hard time finding my way back. It’s embarrassing.

I’ve seen this happening with other people as well. They are usually in a street corner looking over a printed map, trying to find their way around. And this is specially true when you are traveling overseas and your phone doesn’t work.

There are a few apps that can help you with that, and I’ve tried them all, but none of them has the features and simplicity that I wanted. So I decided to give it a try and build one on my own in my spare time as a side project.

Work on Trip Compass started around July 2013. At first I started with a rough Javascript prototype to validate the idea. But I wanted to challenge myself and see if I had stamina to learn Objective-C and build an iPhone app from scratch while working full-time as a Senior Software Engineer at Gogobot.

Trip Compass was born as a niche app focused on travelers and wanderers who like to walk and explore a new city or place by foot.

The main idea was to have a simple compass pointing you where your destination is as opposed of telling you which street to turn, and this is the fundamental difference between Trip Compass and other apps. It’s up to you to decide which path to take to get to your destination.

Another very important feature was the ability to work 100% offline, since most of the time when people travel abroad the connection sucks and roaming costs a fortune.

I didn’t start with any deadlines in mind, my motto was “I will launch when its ready” and my rules were that I would only work on it before going to work between 6:30 and 8:00 am, from monday through friday. No weekends, no late nights, just a steady couple hours of work every day with no excuses. This routine was inspired from Jerry Seinfeld don’t break the chain productivity secret.

Although I’ve worked on a few side projects over the years, this is the first time I’ve managed to finish a side project while working full time. And I feel really happy about this accomplishment. I’ve always envied people that could do that. The key takeaways for me was: start small, establish a routine and work at least one hour every single day from monday through friday without breaking the chain. Consistency is key.

Learning Objective-C was fun and infuriating at times, my learning process is kind of erratic, maybe that’s why I was never a good student. I can’t just read a book or follow some formal education, for me learning happens on the go, tinkering and hacking around in a series of trial and errors until it clicks.

Overall the process was pretty smooth, the good thing about writing software for a living is that experience counts and it’s really easy to pick up new languages and technologies once you know the fundamentals. It’s just a new syntax right? It also helps if you know how to write the right Google query. ;-)

There were many frustrating moments during this journey, like trying to understand Auto Layout or fighting Core Data, but the cool thing about being so constrained in hours is that it forces you to prioritize and focus on the important stuff first and put everything else on the back burner. There is no time for procrastination.

In the end it took me almost a year to finalize the app. I’ve tried to set a few soft deadlines and missed them all. And I don’t care because the journey is the reward and the feeling of putting something out there, something that didn’t exist before and also learning some cool stuff in the process is unbeatable. It’s like riding a big wave but also taking a few wipeouts just to keep you humble and alert.

Trip Compass is available on the App Store and costs $1.99.



Brazilian expat working in tech in Silicon Valley.

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